The Bureaucratic Politics of Disasters
Perhaps the least studied but institutionally most important elements in the international humanitarian response system are the donor countries' disaster relief offices -- notably those of the United States and the European Union (EU). These offices fund 86 percent of the NGO, ICRC, and UN work in complex emergencies. 1 The level of operational coordination among them has reached an increasingly sophisticated level; indeed, such cooperation has been easier to achieve and more productive than military and diplomatic relationships between these same national governments when dealing with complex emergencies. Because of this intimacy, the United States and EU have influenced each other in the development of strategy, though as yet joint strategic planning does not occur on a regular basis.
Virtually all of the literature on complex emergency response fails on this central point: without the donor country aid agencies and their disaster relief offices, there would be no emergency response of any significance. No humanitarian agency generates enough private funding to sustain a program in the field during complex emergencies, particularly after the television cameras are turned off. The enormous outpouring of private support for the Ethiopian famine response of 1985 is not illustrative of private contributions generally unless the situation deteriorates into mass starvation. It takes repeated scenes of the apocalypse on the evening news to raise great amounts of private money, scenes that